At The Frontier of Science— Cognizance by RSM

Manipal’s official student research body, The Research Society Manipal, ardently strives to foster and facilitate a culture of research and scientific endeavour amongst the MIT student community. To this end, they held an eight-day multi-disciplinary event— Cognizance, showcasing a series of technical talks by professionals in academia and leading researchers in diverse scientific fields from esteemed institutions.

Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution—Day One

By Ankita Veerabahu

The first event, held on 18th July 2021 on Microsoft Teams, presented Abhinav Deshpande, a Doctoral candidate of Physics at the University of Maryland and research assistant at the Joint Quantum Institute. He has numerous publications and citations of his work in Quantum Computing.

The moderator for the event, Dhyan Gandhi, introduced Abhinav and his impressive accomplishments to the awe of the audience. Abhinav kicked off his presentation by sharing snippets of various news headlines about Quantum Computing, portraying its controversial nature. He introduced Quantum Computing as the intersection of Computer Science and Quantum Physics, shedding light on its importance in analyzing algorithms.

The discussion proceeded to the fundamentals of Quantum Physics, and even the paradox of Schrödinger’s cat and superposition principles were touched upon. Associating these to the topic at hand, he introduced the participants to Qubits—the Quantum analog of classical bits, and explained the math that lies at the base of the concept. The illustrations were calibrated to be comprehensible by beginners and showed a comparison of how classical and quantum computers dealt with the problems. He also discussed the Gate model of Quantum Computing and the applications of Quantum computers at length, sharing the names of some fascinating quantum-based hardware like Google’s Sycamore chip. The audience appeared to get increasingly inquisitive as the talk progressed, filling the chatbox with questions, some of which got answered intermittently.

Abhinav talks about Quantum simulation- the study of quantum systems that are difficult to study in the laboratory and impossible to model with a supercomputer.

As the presentation neared its conclusion, Abhinav busted some myths about this inspiring new domain and stressed the need to beware of the hype, though Physics simulation has vast potential. He profoundly shared his thoughts on the future of Quantum Computing and expressed the need for there to be more quantum-literate practitioners in different fields. Winding up the session, valuable resources such as links to blogs, lectures, and books were shared to help students further their learning in the subject.

Moving on to the Question & Answer round, the participants posed a variety of significant queries about the work of Indians in Quantum Computing and how undergraduate students could pursue an interest in this field, which Abhinav answered graciously and passionately. Questions concerning the energy efficiency of quantum computers, the likeness of the Quantum Race to the Space Race were some of the more thought-provoking ones addressed, and all the attendees gained substantial insight on the subject. “The seminar gave beginners like me a great introduction to quantum computing. Abhinav Deshpande made the session interesting and interactive and covered all the basics of the topic. Thanks to RSM for organizing such a great event,” commented Shreya Akurathi, one of the attendees.

Relevant resources were shared in the event, which can be used to learn more about Quantum Computing.

Dhyan Gandhi, President of RSM, remarked, “Quantum computing is quite a popular topic nowadays, and there are a lot of myths surrounding it. We wanted to show people just how vast areas of research could be. We’re glad we were able to host Abhinav. The audience absolutely loved him”. Abhinav’s talk was thoroughly engaging and exhilarating. This compelling webinar has opened the door for many beginners to delve deeper into Quantum Computing. With a turnout of more than 100 participants, the event was undoubtedly a success and has paved the way for the upcoming talks of Cognizance.

Paving the Path for Polymers in Real Life Applications–Day Two

By Varun Bapat

The second speaker of Cognizance was none other than an honorary faculty member of MIT, Manipal – Dr. M. Selvakumar. With a Ph.D. from NIT, Karnataka, and over 18 years of research experience, Dr. Selvakumar is the principal investigator of a DRDO research project. The primary theme of his talk was Polymer Blends and Composites and their real-world applications.

Dr. Selvakumar commenced the event by presenting a brief outline of his talk. While explaining the first subtopic, Thermodynamics of Polymer Dissolution, he told the audience how reaching the result took him days and nights of hard work.  He used classical methods to procure his results for absolute accuracy. Dr. Selvakumar proceeded to explain how the world is slowly focusing on creating environmentally friendly designs and how this includes a big shift to using Lithium-ion batteries. He then elaborated on the extraction of activated carbon from waste materials and the different methods to do so.

Towards the end of the presentation, his talk concentrated on the real-life applications of thermoelectrics like the thermoelectric generator. He concluded his talk and proceeded to introduce the research team working with him, and with that, the forum was open for discussion with the audience. The detailed presentation and the eye-catching slides kept the audience hooked on to the subject of the talk.

The Research Team Working Under Dr. Selvakumar

During the interactive session, a participant asked about the small-scale applications of advanced materials. Dr. Selvakumar explained that using eco-friendly lithium ions with his experimental current density theory would be extremely commercially beneficial to a smaller company. The event concluded with Dr. Selvakumar lending a mentoring hand to the students interested in further research and knowledge regarding the subject.

Geopolymers: The Future of Environment-Friendly Cement–Day Two

By Ishaa Sahani

The second day of Cognizance saw a technical presentation by Ms. Rashmi Singla on the Designing and Characterization of Hybrid Geopolymers. Ms. Singla is a scientist at the Council Of Scientific And Industrial Research-National Metallurgical Laboratory (CSIR-NML) who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. from The Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research (AcSIR) by researching building materials viz. hybrid geopolymers. Ms. Singla graduated from the National Institute of Technology,  Jalandhar with a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering in 2014 and then joined CSIR-NML as a trainee scientist. In 2016, she completed her Masters in Material Science and Metallurgical Engineering from AcSIR. She is an awardee of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellowship for the Doctoral Programme. She has four publications and two patents to her name.

The event was attended by over fifty students eager to explore this field. Ms. Singla started the presentation from the very basics of hybrid materials. Hybrid materials have two moieties: organic and inorganic, that are blended into one on a molecular scale. Moieties are parts of a molecule that are identified as building blocks in other molecules as well. Their properties majorly depend on the interactions between the two kinds of phases present in them. Hybrid geopolymers are an example of such hybrid materials, in which favorable properties can be developed due to the high strength and environmental-friendly nature of geopolymers.

Her research focuses on tailoring the interaction between the two phases to get desirable properties. As a result, the samples show higher compatibility between the organic and inorganic phases, resulting in a higher compressive strength than ordinary geopolymers.

Upon conclusion of the presentation, a few curious minds raised some insightful questions about the various feasible applications of geopolymers, to which Ms. Singla explained that geopolymers mainly find use in structural and construction purposes, though currently, we do not have any technology to produce geopolymers on a commercial scale. Geopolymers are an emerging technology and the growing worldwide demand for concrete presents huge possibilities in the future for the development and large-scale use of geopolymers.

ABCDs of Drug Discovery–Day Three

By Arshia Puthran

On 20th July, Dr. Subrahmanyam Vangala took a ninety-minute-long session explaining comprehensively the revolutionary changes that drug discovery has undergone over the years. The CEO and co-founder of Reagene Biosciences located in Bangalore, Dr. Vangala is a Biochemistry Ph.D. graduate from Memorial University. He then continued his post-doctoral training at the University of Toronto, University of Colorado, and University of California at Berkeley. With a background of working in the pharmaceuticals industry for 30 years, his company revolves around pioneering new medications for many of the diseases inflicting the human race. His talk provided extensive insights into drug discovery, breaking down the entire process of the development and trials of drugs and outlined the challenges faced during the manufacturing of the same.

Dr. Vangala began his presentation by detailing the two criteria set by regulatory agencies for the drug to be approved to be sold in the market – efficacy and safety. The companies receive a green light when the benefits outweigh the risk. The typical strategy to select drugs is based on different clinical trials, which are colour-coded using red, yellow, and green. The prominence of green indicates success and the medicine gains validation.

He followed this by discussing the major illnesses in today’s world compared to the past, owing to the lifestyle changes of society, with ischemic or coronary heart disease being the leading cause of death currently. The industry has been victorious in developing antibiotics, medicines for diabetes, and many other common sicknesses, however, drugs for degenerative diseases persist to cause problems.

The discovery of novel drugs comprises a 5-step process to filter out 1 or 2 out of the 10,000 drugs that go through the procedure. With an enormous expenditure of $2.5 billion over 10-14 years with zero assurance of its success as NDA does not tend to easily give its stamp of approval, drug research can be a huge financial liability involving many risks.

5-step filtering process in a new drug discovery.

Dr. Vangala then elucidated the drastic changes observed during the drug discovery process due to technological advancements achieved by the science sector. He took the audience on a journey from the 1960s to the 2000s, describing thoroughly the application of the new knowledge gained over the years and its effect on the rate of novel drugs approved. The 1990s particularly saw a rise in drug toxicity in humans, due to animals being unaffected by the poison during clinical trials, which then led to the startling revelation that animals and human interactions with drugs differ and thus cannot be used to accurately predict its safety and efficiency.

The intricacies of the human body have proven to be a barrier for the drug development industry since time immemorial, due to the many equations regarding genes, proteins, epigenomes, and metabolomes that remain unsolved. The complexity of genes has boggled professionals, with new factors affecting the gene composition being discovered regularly, including and not limited to ethnicity diversity and age.

He shared anecdotes about his friend while explaining about drugs being withdrawn due to hepatotoxicity and cardiac toxicities, who was involved with the issues relating to the drug Troglitazone, removed from the market for hepatotoxicity. Moreover, he went onto explain in detail how orally administered drugs work, the various interactions that take place inside the body on ingestion, and the changes that occur in the blood composition. He related everything he taught during the talk to the current unprecedented situation of Covid -19, which definitely helped better comprehend the entire drug discovery process and challenges that follow it.

Dr. Vangala concluded his talk with a quote from Steve Jobs – “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” The session came to a fulfilling end with an enthusiastic QnA discussion, with intriguing questions from the students and enlightening answers from the speaker.

A Well-Spun Tale of Electronics–Day Four

By Paridhi Gupta

On 23rd July, the sixth day of Cognizance, Mr. Rahul Mishra, an assistant professor in the Center of Research for Applied Electronics at IIT Delhi was invited. He presented an elaborate session on the intriguing topic of “Spintronics and Its Future Scope” on Microsoft Teams.

Mr. Mishra has a Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He was a graduate student at the National University of Singapore, where he went on to complete his post-doctoral research. He completed his Btech/Mtech dual degree from IIT Kanpur and worked as a component design engineer for Intel. Rahul is also a recipient of various national and international level awards and recognition, such as the President’s Graduate Fellowship from NUS and the Academic Excellence award from IIT Kanpur. He has over 19 published papers in the field of Spintronics and over 690 impressive citations.

Rahul Mishra explaining the Why? of spintronics

Spintronics is a field of study in electronics focusing on the spin or angular momentum property of an electron and the fundamental electronic charge in solid-state devices. This spin in electrons gives rise to magnetization, which is used to store data. Rahul spoke about the history of Spintronics and later discoveries, and its various applications in the data storage of electronics devices. He explained the need for Spintronics for the upcoming future generation by displaying the effect of processor frequency, power density, processor performance, and processor-memory gap over the decades and further describing the various features of Spintronics that make it advantageous.

Spintronics is employed majorly in computing memory. With the founding of the “magnetic tunnel junction”—the unit of spintronic memory created by Nobel laureate Michel Jullière, Rahul explained the three different generations of MRAMs used ever since. The session concluded with an insightful QnA session.

A still from the Q/A session on Spintronics.

The ‘Aerospace’ and ‘AI in sustainability’ domain’s sessions that were supposed to be held on 21st and 22nd July were cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances.

Xplaining XAI–Day Five

By Arushi Gandhi

As part of the sixth talk of cognizance event, RSM invited Fatemehsadat Mireshghallah to present her field of research. She is a Ph.D. student at the CSE department of the University of California San Diego. Her research interests are Trustworthy Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing. She is a recipient of the National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) Collegiate award in 2020 for her work on privacy-preserving inference, and a finalist of the Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship in 2021. She has interned twice at Microsoft Research’s Language and Intelligent Assistance group, where she works on private training of large language models.

A major focus of her talk was about Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) and its impact on Privacy. Explainable AI is artificial intelligence in which the results of the solution can be understood by humans, i.e. an interpretable output. The key axes of operation in an AI processing model are its utility and interpretability. An elegant, well-integrated AI system would ensure both, but increasingly the security of an AI system and the privacy of the data it works with have become sensitive points open to attack. Fatemeh highlighted the privacy-utility-interpretability trade-off that exists within this domain and its impact on the fairness of predictive models. She also discussed risks and certain attacks which could be implemented on Natural Language Processing (NLP) models and how privacy could mitigate it.

The session had an impressive turnout for an online event with about 85 people who showed up for the event. An attendee, Vedant Rishi Das asked, “With all of our information already online, do you think privacy-preserving machine learning will add to leakage accountability by these companies or social media platforms?” To that, Fatemeh pointed out the increasing number of lawsuits that companies are having to face, which will lead to companies being forced to take accountability. That being said, people need to take caution with respect to the sort of content and personal information they put out on the internet.

The moderator of the event, Aman Priyanshu ensured smooth running and had some great concluding thoughts— “Privacy is an important aspect of every person’s life. Introducing this concept into the field of machine learning will allow trustability and accountability”.

The final session on Physics was also cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances.

Despite three of the nine sessions being cancelled, Cognizance was a huge success. Each day boasted of impressive turnouts, acclaimed speakers, and enthusiastic participants. RSM came up with yet another immensely educational event,  exposing MIT students to exciting fields previously unexplored.

Featured Image Credits: Research Society MIT